Program Manager, Workplace Mental Health and Peer Engagement, Sutter Health
Living with depression, anxiety, and addiction

Sensitive and empathetic, Donna has survived childhood abuse, a miscarriage, and a car accident that derailed her planned career. For decades, she dealt with her depression and anxiety by self-medicating. Today her life “is glorious” and she is living the life she wants to live. Her career has blossomed, her marriage is strong and happy, her children are doing well and she is confident in her own stability. Most importantly, she loves herself.

Donna’s Story

What was your most difficult time?

There have been so many – struggling back from difficult life events, battling with myself for life, wanting to die to get away from excruciating psychological pain. Looking back, I am astonished that I didn’t believe I had an illness. I thought I was just weak and stupid. I was filled with self-loathing and welcomed death by engaging in risky behavior.

What helped you get well and move to stability?

First and foremost, I credit my tenacity—a kind of stubbornness—with getting me through it all. Next, I credit the supportive networks in my life. My spouse many times literally held me together. Just knowing that my children needed me kept me alive. Another crucial component to my recovery is that I have not just done one thing. I’ve used medication, exercise, dance, sleep hygiene, and good nutrition. I’ve limited alcohol, caffeine, sugar and stressful relationships. And I’ve found support in self-help groups, Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma counseling, coaching, meditation, self-hypnosis, and being in nature.

How do you manage your condition and stay healthy?

I am very careful about sleep, food, being hydrated. I do not drink alcohol. I limit stressors and manage my reactions to stress. I give myself permission to say, “no.” I am cognizant of early warning signs that I am becoming unwell. When this happens, I increase my self-care to its highest level and decrease stressors.

What advice would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours?

Be ferocious about getting and staying healthy. Start with one choice a day that is better than yesterday. If you fail, don’t beat yourself up for too long – just long enough to say, “I don’t want to feel this way again.”
Know yourself. Learn about yourself in a therapeutic environment, where you are safe to dig deep. Be open to trying many things to help you get well. Examine toxic relationships, habits, and activities – and find a way to make better choices. Create a constant network of support. Most important: keep working at it. We can wish to have an easier time, but that’s not what we’ve been handed. There is hope! You can do this. You are not alone.